Rahm’s 2017 budget: No significant reforms to help Chicago taxpayers

Rahm’s 2017 budget: No significant reforms to help Chicago taxpayers

In his annual budget address, Mayor Rahm Emanuel provided an optimistic outlook on city finances, but no major reforms to give taxpayers reason to smile.

The Chicago City Council held a special meeting Oct. 11 to provide Mayor Rahm Emanuel an opportunity to present his 2017 budget. This annual meeting kicks off the budget process.

For the next month, City Council members will hear from department heads as those leaders justify their annual spending appropriations and face questions about their previous and current operations. When those meetings have concluded, the City Council will hold meetings for three consecutive weeks, and will vote on the budget Nov. 16. Members of the public will have an opportunity to present their views after the City Council meeting Nov. 1.

Emanuel described the 2017 budget as “free of an immediate pension crisis, free of the black cloud of insolvency threatening the retirements of city employees and the financial future of Chicago.” Though the city is facing a $137 million shortfall, Emanuel claims there are no new taxes in this $3.7 billion budget proposal. This is disingenuous.

Chicagoans have been hit with multiple tax increases in 2016: a Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, property-tax levy of $250 million, $240 million in water-sewer taxes, and $225 million more in property taxes by 2019. And this doesn’t account for potential new taxes to pay for the CPS/Chicago Teachers Union agreement, which does not yet have clear costs assigned to it.

So what is Emanuel proposing?

  • Disposable bagtax: The mayor has proposed a new 7-cent tax for paper and plastic disposable bags. Stores would keep 2 cents; the city would retain the rest. This is anticipated to bring in $9.2 million in revenue.
  • Parking hike around Wrigley Field:Parking meter costs would increase around Wrigleyville during Cubs games and special events. The fee hike would double the rate to $4 per hour and would be in effect two hours before an event and one hour after. This is anticipated to bring in $2.4 million in revenue next year.
  • Downtown loading zone fee:This proposal would require truck drivers to pay $14 per hour for the right to park in loading zones and would be implemented in the 2nd, 27th and 42nd This is anticipated to bring in $13 million-$18 million in revenue.
  • Chicago Police Department:The mayor has proposed to hire 970 new police officers, increasing the sworn officer numbers to 13,535 from 12,565 by 2018. With additional increases in spending (including materials and supplies), the Chicago Police Department’s allocation has increased by $75 million.
  • Pharmaceutical Representative Licensing:The plan would create a new $750 yearly license fee for pharmaceutical representatives. It also would require ethics training and disclosures about opioid prescription samples. The mayor anticipates this would bring in $1 million in revenue.

Emanuel said the 2017 budget is balanced “not with gimmicks, but with honesty and shared responsibility.”

Yet the mayor is not painting an honest picture of the burdens the city has already imposed – and will impose – on taxpayers. And the people “sharing responsibility” seem to be taxpayers for the most part. The city has yet to enact pension reforms or other fiscal or economic reforms that would bring costs in line with what taxpayers can afford. Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, noted the council should review the mayor’s spending plan with a critical eye, according to WBEZ. “I’ve never seen a budget that didn’t pass,” Waguespack said. “So you know, the aldermen have to be more deliberate in what we look at here. More deliberate in the way that we approach his funding mechanisms and the way that they pay for them.”

While the mayor’s “good news” speech has elicited some sighs of relief and positive news from the rating agencies, the story is not complete. The pension crisis looms large over City Council actions and continues to threaten taxpayers with additional taxes and fees. In the meantime, residents shouldn’t simply hope for the best while expecting the worst. They should ensure City Council knows where they stand. There’ll be plenty of opportunities for city residents to attend City Council meetings before the budget vote takes place in mid-November.

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